Panthers-Saints report card

CHARLOTTE, NC — The Carolina Panthers turned an ugly start and 13-7 deficit, that should have been greater, into a 35-27 victory Sunday over NFC South foe New Orleans and in the process restored the good vibe that permeated the franchise in the preseason.

The Panthers had some rough moments, especially in the first quarter-plus of the contest. But Carolina found itself and surged forward making plays on both sides of the ball to earn the crucial victory.

Here is a look at the Panthers’ report card for their first win of the season in two outings:

Panthers offense: Jonathan Stewart gave the running game a huge lift with his full-steam-ahead physical play. It helped DeAngelo Williams do his thing and blended beautifully with Cam Newton running and throwing the football. Newton passed for 253 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. Carolina ran the ball for 219 yards. Brandon LaFell caught eight passes for 90 yards and Steve Smith had 104 yards receiving. Grade: A+.

Panthers defense: Throw away the stats (27 first downs, 486 yards allowed) because a unit that did not make big plays a year ago made plenty Sunday. The defensive front applied a bunch of pressure on Saints’ QB Drew Brees, interceptions two of his passes – one that was returned for a touchdown and the other to seal the game. They also forced field goals on two early new Orleans possession that appeared almost scripted, but Carolina toughened in the red zone, and that may have been as important as anything else that happened in the game. Grade: B.

Panthers intangibles: Carolina converted half of its 3rd downs, won the turnover battle, got a key 58-yard punt from rookie Brad Nortman, covered a late kickoff well, and was flagged just four times on the afternoon. The obvious growth as the Panthers seized control of the game was impressive, and will serve the team well moving forward. Grade: B+.